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Making a Menger sponge in stained glass (joshmillard.com)
171 points by sohkamyung on Feb 14, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 29 comments

My mom made some really amazing stained glass projects when I was a kid and I've always been fascinated by it. Recently I had the thought that the process could be singnificantly sped by using CNC/Waterjets or something else to help with the really time consuming cutting and fitting aspects.

I've found a few instances where people have used CNC cutters with a diamond drag bit to help score the glass, and a few industrial glass cutting applications of similar to stained glass size items, but no real start to finish projects.

This is an interesting industrial example as they were able to produce a stained glass piece that is made almost entirely from curved pieces (a near impossibility with traditional scoring and breaking) - https://semyx.com/solutions/waterjet-applications/glass/

Industrial waterjet glass cutting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_qMKKwvzz8

> almost entirely from curved pieces (a near impossibility with traditional scoring and breaking)

I was a little surprised when I read this because it means the people at my local makerspace are magicians. There are tons of examples of curved stained glass as well as a lot of howtos on how to do it. The came glasswork page on wikipedia is full of stained glass with curves: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Came_glasswork

What am I missing?

I'll agree that "a near impossibility" feels like a real big overstatement; curves are very doable and common in hand-cut glass. That's true even in my first piece, under discussion, which is chock full of curves. I talk a bit in the process diary about getting comfortable with doing curved breaks after being over-cautious with my first few bits of glass.

That said, I can see how a CNC approach could help with the speed of the process; shallow/simple curves are easy enough to do reliably, but deeper, more complex, and significantly concave curves require additional effort and planning, potentially a lot of manual work with grozing pilers to break out a concavity, and additional grinding to finish out the shape.

So being able to turn a machine process to some of those cuts would save a lot of manual effort and potentially get you right up to the final polish-grind stage in one go, which certainly sounds attractive for some kinds of design.

What you're missing is glass grinders (router) and band saws. Grinders use diamond abrasive bits and flood cooling. Glass bandsaws same deal. With those you can shape flat pieces any shape you want.

I had never heard of glass bandsaws before, but this looks amazing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nyqfO7GdyJ0

But you can also cut curved glass with traditional glass scoring? And this has been so for a long time.

I tried that a couple of times, can be done. Takes skill I don't really have.

I'd imagine the cutting glass part is a major draw to this hobby. That and the soldering looks like the fun part to me.

Well, hey, that's me! Howdy folks.

Love the design, but I'm kind of envious of how easy you made this look! Haha. My wife and I got super into stained glass work for a while there, and while she kept getting better, I never really did. It's hard to do it well, so mad props to you for making it look so easy!

I was surprised and please how much I took to it, honestly; I went in cold and was prepared to not really get a knack for it.

But easy-looking is also a product of writing it up after the fact, and learning under good instruction; it was still a solid 20+ hours of work with a fair amount of cursing and bits of messing up and redoing stuff.

In any case, whether or not I caught on quicker than average, the process itself feels very accessible to me. I can recommend giving it a shot a lot more readily than I'd have guessed before I tried it myself.

Also, if you like my mathy design instincts with this stained glass piece, you may enjoy looking through the painting work (mostly oils) I've done over the last couple years:


Now that you've learned how to do this in the class, how feasible would it be to do at home? It seems like the grinder would be the most difficult part to replicate at home. I imagine a woodworking router with some sort of diamond grinder bit couldn't be used since I think you said it has water running on the bit.

Totally feasible! You could probably put a whole one-person workspace into about fifty square feet without getting cramped, less with some squeezing and multitasking, and I'd guess basic toolset would run you less than $500 retail.

The grinder I used is a pretty simple unit with a water reservoir tray under the grill that keeps the bit wet via a sponge feeder; probably about $100 new, used bargains if you go looking, but, yeah, water feed of some sort is key to the grinding working well on glass.

Looks like a fun art project, thanks! As you say, there aren't too many tools needed. If you were doing this on your own, though, not part of a class, where would you get the glass? It looks like you had a nice variety of interesting pieces to choose from.

I got to use the studio's supply, so I haven't had to really sort out glass buying myself. And yeah, I was lucky to benefit from access to a really great collection of glass. But there are some commercial firms (Spectrum does very flat, transparent glass; Delphi does stuff with more character) and you can go haunt estate sales, watch for hobbyists getting out from under their supply, check with art schools, etc.

Thank you for the extensive write up! It sounds like a fun thing to do and I'm looking for classes in my area.

My father did a lot of stained glass window when I was young. When we moved countries he couldn't take it up again for lack of funds but I have fond memories geeking out with him about it. He would draw amazing things with it and I wished that it was more prevalent today. Stained glass can be absolutely beautiful.

Working with glass really is a lot of fun and isn’t particularly hard. I didn’t realize how easy it was until I started messing with chemistry.

The material is absolutely amazing and we still don’t know everything about it.

That is stunning! The part about copper and solder got me wondering if it would be possible to create some primitive circuits for... something?

Glass is a perfectly good circuit board material. Here's a company offering it commercially:


That is pretty neat, it's essentially a macroscale version of a CMOS process.

Could be interesting if this could be used with electro-opaque privacy glass.

Menger sponges are neat! I once wrote up some code to procedurally generate them for 3d rendering.


(See readme for a rendering)

Fun fact: I was seeing pyramids in the center of faces on all pictures until I searched online to look what is a menger sponge!

Yeah, this isometric rendering has nice hints of Necker Cube illusions to it.

That's lovely; amazing that it was just your first project. Thanks for the detailed walk-through. My mom did stained glass before I was born, but I never got to see it done, so it was really cool to be able to see it grow step-by-step.

It's a shockingly approachable medium! I was really surprised at how much it wasn't a series of frustrating technical or fiddly bits.

That's some very HN material! I would totally buy a copy piece of that, great explanation about each step of the process too! :-)

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